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About the past Chair

Dr. F. Mary Williams, Ph.D. Simon Fraser
Faculty of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Memorial University
Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography, Memorial University

The Chair for Women in Science and Engineering (CWSE) was a senior faculty position at Memorial with a special purpose and a special mandate: to support the increased participation of women at all levels in Science and Engineering, with a focus on Atlantic Canada.

The CWSE term was from 1997-2002 and ended when Dr. Williams took up a position as Director General of the National Research Council Institute for Marine Dynamics in Sept. 2002.  The Office for Women in Science and Technology is continuing at Memorial University with Carolyn J. Emerson as Interim Director, and will complete some initiatives of CWSE and continue marketing of the Becoming Leaders Handbook and workshop delivery.  The OWSE can still be contacted at or by phoning 709-737-7960.

Many women have entered exciting and rewarding careers in science and engineering since women were first admitted into engineering schools several decades ago. However, women are still underrepresented in most student and professional groups in science and engineering, and are a small minority at senior levels. Furthermore, participation rates have leveled off in recent years. NSERC launched five regional Chairs in response to the recommendations of a national Task Force on Women in Science and Engineering. Petro-Canada is supporting both the Memorial Chair and the Chair at the University of Calgary, with the specific goals: expand the number of women entering these careers; increase the retention rate of those who choose a career in science and technology; and give stronger support to the women who have entered the field. The overall vision is that the participation of women at all levels in science and engineering will be 33% or more.

The objectives of the CWSE, succinctly, are: stimulate interest, promote choice, and support retention. Girls in Grade 4 form attitudes which will determine, in high school, whether math is fun or boring (interest). Young women in high school make career decisions when they select a university program (choice). Many young women in university and in the early stages of a career decide that the goal is too far, and they leave science and engineering for more traditional careers (retention). 

In working to achieve these goals, the CWSE applies three core strategies: Leadership, Excitement, and New TraditionsLeadership is required every place where women work and study. The CWSE supports leadership development, and communicates the accomplishments of women as leaders.

The second strategy is Excitement in science and engineering as the motivation for women to enter and remain in these fields. The CWSE takes every opportunity to enhance public perception, and in particular student perception, of the excitement and satisfaction enjoyed by people working in science and engineering.

The trio is completed by New Traditions. This strategy recognizes that many of the factors which overtly or subtly deter women from science and engineering careers are not explicit in policy or statement, but rather they are deep and systemic factors in institutions where we work - the fundamental assumptions, the habits, and the traditions. CWSE projects aim to identify these traditions, and to give institutional leaders the rationale and the confidence to implement change.
Dr. F. Mary Williams, Chair (left) and Carolyn J. Emerson, Assistant to the Chair at Memorial University of Newfoundland (right).

The Chairholder, Dr. Mary Williams, works with the Professional Assistant to the Chair at Memorial, Carolyn Emerson, and with other organizations and institutions in the Atlantic Region committed to similar objectives, providing focus, support, and complementary resources.

Mary Williams with participants in CWSE sponsored Nova Scotia Roundtable on Science and Technology, Oct. 11, 2001 – Marilyn Webster, N.S. Dept. of Education, Marty Leonard, Dalhousie University, Katherine Darvish, Mount St. Vincent University and David Richardson, St. Mary’s University.